In the Old Testament the practice of attempting to contact the dead was strictly forbidden (Isaiah 8:19). Yet there is a sense that we need to listen to the dead, or listen to what they would really tell us if permitted.
There are many lessons that can be learned from the sobering account of the rich man and Lazarus, but one that struck me recently was the huge difference in what the rich man was interested in while alive and by contrast what preoccupied his thoughts once he had died.
- The text says that while he was alive he spent his life habitually wearing the best clothes and joyously living in splendor every day (Luke 16:19). The here and now, comfort, pleasure, fun, good food and all the finer things that this life could afford preoccupied his thinking. It does not sound like he spent much time praying, listening to the Scriptures or seeking to tell others about the true God. Rather, like many people his mind was filled with thoughts of, “What am I going to buy next?” “When is the next party?”
- Once he died his mind was in a completely different place. All this thoughts are now preoccupied in seeking to have his still living brothers warned of the terrible fate that awaits them if they do not repent (Luke 16:28). Topics such as sin, repentance and obedience to God that once would have bored him are now the central focus of his life.
They Have Changed
When thinking of dead family members, friends or relatives it is tempting to keep them forever as they were in this life. It is tempting to think that the thoughts, interests, and pursuits that characterized them while alive are still what preoccupies their thoughts. Yet the truth is that they have changed. If they were faithful, they are even more serious about spiritual things. If they were superficial and spent their lives pursuing other interests instead of the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), they no longer have that perspective.
What Really Matters to Them
Sometimes parents can pass on something to their children, such as a family heirloom, home or piece of property. While alive they might say something like, “That is really valuable, so don’t ever sell it”. What we need to realize is that once they die, all those possessions don’t mean anything to them anymore. Only one thing matters, that we are right with God. In Luke 16 did you notice that the rich man did not ask Abraham about, “What happened to my house?” So never feel guilty for not honoring some purely human family wish or tradition. Instead, make sure that you continue to honor God.
At other times family members while living may have never appreciated your attempts to faithfully live the Christian life. They did not understand why being baptized as a child wasn’t acceptable. They did not understand your faithful attendance that took precedence over family events (Hebrews 10:24-25), or why you didn’t smoke, drink, swear or allow you children to wear immodest clothing and did not want them to see a certain movie. Now they do. Now they get it. Now they are rooting for you.
Do Not Follow Me/I Don’t Want You Here
Sometimes people resist obeying the gospel for they believe that in obeying Jesus and being baptized they are at that moment condemning deceased family members who were did obey Jesus. The hard truth of the matter is that those family members were condemned long before you were baptized for the remission of sins. Your decision to be baptized did not condemn them, rather their own sins and their own refusal to obey Jesus during this life was the problem. Did you notice in Luke 16 that the rich man has no interest in his brothers joining him in torment? There is no mention that having them there would comfort him or make it more tolerable. If you have family members who died outside of Christ, know this for sure, they do not want you making the same mistake they made. They want you to repent and obey Christ. They want you to make it to heaven. They do not want you joining them. That would horrify them.
So if someone who we loved died outside of Christ, and most people know not just one such person, but many. It is easy to feel that since I will not spend eternity with them that I will never really have any closure in this area. Yet we do have closure. The words of the rich man in Luke 16 provide such. They have spoken. They love you. They love you so much that they don’t want you following in their footsteps.
Did They Make it?
Every now and then someone dies who at one time was a faithful Christian but somewhere during the years they departed from the teachings of Christ and either stopped being a Christian completely or altered their convictions stopped following the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16). In those cases someone might approach us and say, “Well do you think they ended up lost?” For me, this is not the first question to ask. I believe a better question to start with would be:
- “What would they tell us now? How would they say to us at their own funeral?” “What would their message be for us, if they could communicate?”
- In light of all the clear passages that stress our faithful obedience to what Jesus has said (Matthew 7:21; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9), I don’t see anyone who departed from the faith, either completely or in a specific area coming back and saying, “Hey, relax, God gives us a lot of wiggle room”. That is not the message from the rich man in Luke 16. Neither is that the message that Jesus had for the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2-3.
- Neither is that the lesson from any of the Biblical precedents in the Old or New Testament. Remember Leviticus 10:1-3; 2 Samuel 6; 1 Samuel 15?
- “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
- ???????“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned… and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah… and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes… then” (2 Peter 2:4-9).
Would I Do That?
When someone tries to pin us down at times with the question, “So do you think they died lost”, a very pertinent question in return would be, “So are you going to follow their example?” And if the answer is “no”, then why? You see it can be easy for people to speculate about the eternal condition of others and saving people who did not seem to be “that bad”. Yet, when it comes to our own eternal destiny, many of the same people who are willing to gamble with the souls of others are definitely not willing to gamble with their own. The real test about whether something is spiritually dangerous or not, is obviously what the Bible says about it. Yet another test can be whether or not I would do that.
How Can I Enjoy Heaven Without Them?
Remember the rich man. The rich man does not say, “Well how will they enjoy heaven without me?” God has already said that in the end He will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). As much as we loved various friends and family members in this life, the reality is that no one can compare to God. When we see Jesus face to face, we will not be thinking about anyone else. He is just that impressive and awesome! As much as Paul loved various lost people (Romans 9:1ff) he never said that their absence will spoil our eternal enjoyment. Reality check: If I am tempted to think that the people I know will not be able to enjoy heaven if I don’t make it, think again.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017